1. Halo 5: Guardians and Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One)
Dammit, Halo 5, why aren't you better? For all your gorgeous looks and smooth, smooth gameplay, you sure ended up as one big misfire. I get it: if the series is going to continue far into the future, it's going to have to move away from the established "Master Chief-as-main character" routine. I think we can all accept that–heck, there are already several games where we get to play as other characters. But Guardians goes about this in all the wrong ways. In it, we're Master Chief for but a tiny fraction of the missions; for the rest, we play as Spartan Locke, who is about as dull as a cardboard cutout. It's extremely difficult to care about Locke and his fireteam...but when we get back to Chief, it's equally unsatisfying because all of the character development and promise of Halo 4 is tossed out the window. Add to that an over-reliance the extended Halo universe (seriously, if you haven't read some books you'll be much less invested in the goings-on), several "missions" that solely consist of walking up to a character and pressing A, and well, the whole Cortana thing (trying not to give spoilers BECAUSE I CARE) and...the latest game in the franchise ends up being the leastest game in the franchise.
Still, playing it caused my Halo Fever to flare up and so I finally dug into the Master Chief Collection. Look, I just love Halo and I even say that as someone who never touches the legendary multiplayer. Playing through the entire saga from beginning to end does lend a bit of credence to that whole "games are so easy now" argument. I don't mean that in some judge-y way; ultimately I think accessibility is good for gaming as a whole. But there's no denying that Halo: Combat Evolved is a fuck ton more difficult than Halo 4, what with the latter's recharging health and ubiquitous waypoints.
2. Tom Clancy's The Division (PS4)
Y'all, I played the shit out of The Division for about six weeks and I dug it wicked hard. The setting–post-pandemic NYC–is stunning. The 3rd person gunplay is satisfying. The story is intriguing and the cast of characters is diverse enough to set my SJW heart all aflutter. Then I got to the endgame, such as it is. Then I got to that point–you know the one–where the grind becomes work instead of play and you wonder what the point of it all is. The problems and gameplay issues that you could once ignore become glaringly obvious and unavoidable, and your ardor cools and morphs into an almost active dislike. And though you no longer log in (none of the DLC sounds enticing enough to bring you back quite yet), you still find yourself rooting for the game. You hope that the devs will get their shit together and figure out how to balance the PvP, how to make its mobile game-style economy less terrible ("To unlock this one mission that gives you one kind of currency, you need to grind for this other currency. Then use a third currency to re-roll the mission rewards because everything is RNG on top of RNG. And don't forget about the other currencies! Have fun!"), how to make it feel at all rewarding once you're in the endgame. So for now, I read about it because I enjoyed it so much that I'd like to go back to it...but I fear it'll be a long, long while if ever.
3. Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
First of all, hey PS4ers, Rise of the Tomb Raider will be released for y'alls on October 11. FINALLY, RIGHT? It's shipping with all the DLC and extra goodies included in one tidy little package and if you are a fan of adventure games, I highly, highly oh-so-super highly recommend it. The story yer standard pulp adventure, and the cast of characters from Tomb Raider (2013) are missed. But many of the niggling issues from that game–namely "too much combat, not enough exploration" have been rectified. It's beautiful and dammit, it's fun. There are tombs to explore and cliffs to climb and ziplines-a-plenty. Surprisingly enough, one of the biggest highlights of the game for me has been the Endurance DLC, where you're dumped in the middle of the frigid Siberian wilderness with little more than the coat on your back. You're tasked with staying warm and fed, with scavenging enough materials to upgrade your equipment, and with finding as many relics as you can...and then calling in an extraction chopper and getting rescued. All the while there are bad guys and all manner of wildlife ready to eat you if you don't eat them first. I'm not one for these survival-type games as they usually feel more like a chore than anything else, but Endurance absolutely works for me. The hunger and warmth meters don't deplete too rapidly unless you find yourself unsheltered in the middle of a snowstorm, but the threat is always real and it's easy to end up in a bind. I've gone into many a dark cave in search of goodies only to linger to the point of near-starvation...then I rush to get out and hunt and I fall into a trap and die on the way. There's always that feeling of wanting to try again, to replay and survive longer because you know you can probably do better. And also you just unlocked a new outfit for Lara and you want to see how it looks in action.
4. Dex (PS4)
If "sidescrolling cyberpunk adventure with RPG elements along the lines of Shadow Complex" sounds at all appealing to you–and if it doesn't, WHY NOT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU–then you owe it to yourself to give this indie game a try. You play as Dex, a young woman who becomes the target of the conglomeration of megacorporations known as The Complex. Before she can figure out what's happening, she's saved by a mysterious hacker who sets her on the road to fighting The Complex, getting all sorts of augmentations, and completing sidequests that can be approached in a plethora of ways. As you progress, you unlock equipment and abilities that allow you to reach areas that were previously inaccessible. Combat consists of melee combos and gunplay alike and while it's frequently challenging, it's never punishing. The art style, though simplistic, makes it feel like a modern spin on a 16-bit Blade Runner, and it's a treat to explore.
5. GTA V Online (PS4)
I go through phases where it's all I wanna play...and just FYI, that means long sessions where a friend and I repeatedly kill each other and go clothes shopping. I even made a little video showcasing our journey to becoming archenemies in the game (a journey that began about five minutes after logging in for the first time). He wins these encounters almost all the time, but I don't care. It makes me so happy. My character is the one with the blue hair, the one who obviously has a penchant for getting run over. Enjoy!
6. Life is Strange (PS4)
Oh my goodness, this game. It devastated me and left me a wreck and I'm not sure I'll ever recover. Yes, I'm talking about the cringeworthy dialogue that spouts from the mouths of teenage American girls but is written by adult French men! Ha ha, kidding. Well, not about the dialogue–it is cringeworthy but after the first episode (of five) you kind of get used to it and it's no longer much of an issue. It's the story that completely left me but a husk of a woman. Teenager Max discovers she has the ability to rewind time when she saves her childhood best friend Chloe from certain death. As the two girls get reacquainted, you do some light pointing and clicking and listening to indie rock and interacting and conversing and rewinding through life at Blackwall Academy. Before you realize it, though, Life is Strange gets fucking dark. Max has to make plenty of difficult choices as her powers begin to wane and a devastating storm appears outside of town. I finished it months ago and it still sticks with me. The first episode is now free on all platforms, so check it out if you dig story games along the lines of Telltale's Walking Dead series. I love Life is Strange and Max and Chloe forever, the end.
So there you go! As I mentioned, this isn't everything I've played, but it's all the stuff that's made the biggest impact. How about you? What's new? What are you playing? Are you as excited for No Man's Sky as I am? Yes, I even put it under NOW PLAYING in the sidebar even though it doesn't come out until Tuesday. That's how excited I am, and I hope to be playing it like mad for a good, long while.